Good Friday Morning! We had two major special elections this week that give us a peak into 2018. The Senate has finally released its version of health care legislation. Add to this Donald Trump jumping in and out of the headlines, and it’s another week in 2017. I’m going to focus this week, though, on a look back through the first six months of the year.
The goal is to show right and wrong predictions, as well as new trends in the Trump administration.
I’m going to skip analyzing the Senate bill this week. Any analysis would require both CBO numbers and an idea of what concessions Mitch McConnell has planned for the four Republican Senators against the bill. I suspect McConnell already knew these four would oppose and has plans on how to manage them.
In other words, don’t get too worked up over analysis of the legislation. It’s not the final version, and we already know it will be amended.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
Here are my latest pieces for the Conservative Institute.
I recount the sudden increase, in the last five years, of migrant sexual assaults in Germany. The surprise is Germany’s indifference towards these crimes. They have failed to protect their citizens or innocent migrants.
Here I cover the shocking case in Michigan of the first prosecution by the federal government of female genital mutilation in the United States. It’s unheard of to see this practice performed in the United States. The Religious Freedom argument advanced in defense of these doctors is also wrong.
In this piece, I go over Comey’s testimony and cover why I don’t see the evidence to convict Trump of collusion or obstruction of justice. I also include the administration’s defense on obstruction of justice.
A look back at 2017, so far
At the beginning of the year, I wrote out expectations I had, important dates to watch, and made predictions. We’re over halfway through the year, and some of those predictions have come to pass. I wanted to cover those points and give everyone things to watch in the second half of the year.
Democrats are planning for impeachment
One of the major themes of the new year was how serious Democrats would be on impeachment. I wrote in January, after the inauguration, that Democrats would look to impeach Trump on either the emoluments clause or something related to the Russia scandal.
That is coming to pass. Democrats are hoping to win the House in 2018 and then push for impeachment. I maintain a failed impeachment effort is the most likely outcome, similar to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Democrats may be able to work up the votes in the House, but there’s no way they win a super-majority in the Senate.
In order to impeach, the House must “indict” the President. Then the Senate holds a trial and has to vote on impeachment. That vote requires a two-thirds majority. Democrats simply won’t have the votes any time soon to accomplish an impeachment – including in an eight-year Trump presidency.
One new wrinkle here, since January, is the new fringe theory that Democrats and Republicans will invoke the 25th Amendment. I don’t believe this will work either, as I laid out earlier.
What to watch: Look for Democrats to build the impeachment effort into a campaign issue. I suspect they’ll want to make this a national issue, so people vote for Representatives willing to impeach. Even if the electoral strategy works, the impeachment odds remain extremely low.
The spread of global nationalism
Next up, I told you to watch elections this year in Europe to see if right-wing nationalism would continue to rise. We’ve had several elections now and received a mixed bag.
On the one hand, right-wing nationalists haven’t won any seats since the US Elections. There hasn’t been a global Trump/Brexit wave pushing fringe candidates over the top. Elections in the Netherlands, France, and the UK have seen centrist, establishment candidates win.
But on the other hand, there are disturbing signs that nationalism is still growing. Marine Le Pen lost in France but gained a larger share of the vote than any previous National Front campaign. After the Brexit vote, the open socialist Jeremy Corbyn, who cavorts with terrorists, pushed back conservatives with his leftist populism in the UK. Populists lost in the Netherlands but won a larger vote share.
The point is this: Trump/Brexit don’t appear to be aberrations. Nationalism has seen losses since Trump, but they have won a growing share of the electorate. That’s a concerning trend for the future.
What to watch: Does nationalism and populism on the left and right continue to grow? If so, that portends far more political pendulum swings in the years ahead. Trump/Brexit may just be the beginning, not an end. It appears as if left-wing populism, personified by Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, is arising presently.
The up-tempo offensive that failed in Congress
The early theme of the Trump administration was that they’d move like an up-tempo offense in pushing legislation. The goal was to promote so many cabinet nominations picks through Congress, along with legislation, that Democrats wouldn’t be able to focus their fire on any one topic. A fast-paced offense was also supposed to keep Trump scandals from dominating the headlines.
If Republicans have run an up-tempo offense in Congress, then the only conclusion is that they’ve gone three-and-out on every single possession. The Republican legislative agenda is an absolute failure. They’ve failed to push through any meaningful legislation on any issue. On health care, they’ve yet to work out the differences between the House and Senate. On every other issue, they’ve failed even to offer a bill.
Republicans have been a failure to launch crew under Trump’s leadership. They’re desperate for a win, any win, to make up for lost time and ground. It’s still very early in the administration, but Congress and the White House haven’t been able to get any offensive drives together.
What to watch: Look for Republicans to try and pick things up after the August recess. They need “wins” going into 2018 to present a message that they are good at governing. If they have nothing to sell Republican voters in 2018, then you can likely give the House to the Democrats. The only question is how big of a margin Democrats gain.
Special Elections are giving us a glimpse of 2018
The short version of all the special elections thus far: Republicans are still winning. The problem for the GOP is that Democrats have seen election vote totals shift eight points in Democrats favor. That hasn’t been enough to win in red districts, but it can in swing districts.
Every election has fundamentals. 2016 was a Republican year where everything trended towards Republicans and prevented Hilary Clinton from achieving escape velocity in the polls. She could never shake the grip of electoral gravity in the election, which pulled everything towards Republicans. Fundamentals saved Trump and allowed him to always remain competitive.
2018 will be different, and right now the gravity of 2018 pulls everything towards Democrats. Republicans have an uphill battle to keep their majority, especially in the House. What this means: 60-80 seats will likely be contestable in 2018.
The danger for Democrats is that by losing elections in such grand fashion in 2017, they risk depressing their base to such an extent that these voters won’t turn out. If voters feel hopeless that Democrats can’t win, they’ll stop donating, volunteering, or voting. If that happens, Democrats will blow an easy chance to take back the House in 2018.
Non-Presidential voting years are expected to go to the President’s opposing party. Political scientists consider that fact about as close to a “law” as you’ll find in electoral politics. It’s expected for Democrats to win seats in 2018, and be in a position to take control of the House. If they fail, it’s all their fault because they will have the advantage (for the first time without Obama since 2006).
What to watch: It was around this time in 2009, between Tax Day and Labor Day, that the Tea Party began to coalesce and create momentum. They lost all the special races in 2009 and 2010 but won on Election Day 2010. Do Democrats have a similar surge in them? Or do they remain so geographically isolated that they’re unable to make an impact across the board? (Worth noting: The Democrats are experiencing the two worst fundraising months since 2003).
The two major elections on the calendar are in New Jersey and Virginia. Republicans are expected to lose both races.
New and unexpected trends
All the above are things I anticipated and expected. Here is what has surprised me so far.
Palace intrigue stories and the new 48 hours rule
It’s been shocking to read the number of breathless reports about the inner workings of the White House. Journalists are reporting about White House factions, which people are liked/disliked, and who is on the outs every single day. It’s tabloid news in the mainstream press.
What’s even more surprising: the rumors are all false, and nothing ever happens. Think about the number of times Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, or Sean Spicer faced imminent firing. You couldn’t count them all. What’s more important: all three are still in the White House.
Between palace intrigue stories and the “blockbuster” breaking news story that turns out to be less than 100% accurate, I have a new rule on any shocking Trump story. Wait 36-48 hours to verify any shocking news story. So far, every story has turned out to have something wrong with it.
That skepticism will keep you sane through news cycles.
Trump’s refusal to nominate people for government positions
Outside of his legal nominations, the Trump administration has refused to nominate people for any positions across the federal government. And it’s not his hiring freeze that’s preventing hirings; it’s the White House.
Estimates say Trump has failed to fill 85% of the agency heads and executive employees. The reason Trump seems to struggle to govern over the administrative branch, or “deep state” as his supporters call it, is because he has not placed pro-Trump loyalists into those positions.
If Trump nominated conservatives to fill these positions, he’d face far less opposition. But his administration hasn’t even put forward nominations for most of the 85%. That problem is on him, not the “deep state,” or Democrats. It’s also the easiest problem to fix: start nominating conservatives.
Americans need a functioning government. Right now, they don’t have that. The White House needs to correct the problem.
The First Major Tragedy: An assassination attempt
Every President has national tragedies that they have to deal with at some point. It’s an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of being the leader of the free world.
What is shocking is what our first tragedy under Trump has been (aside from all his self-inflicted scandals): an assassination attempt on Republican members of Congress.
In good news for the nation, Donald Trump handled the situation flawlessly.
On the disturbing side, Democrats continue to make the moral case that Republicans should be shot. Less than two weeks after an assassination attempt, Sen. Elizabeth Warren stormed to the Senate and declared that Republicans have blood on their hands, and the “cuts to healthcare” would be “paid for with American lives.”
If you’re a potential assassin looking for rhetoric to get you to go murder some Republicans, speeches like this give you moral vindication. Warren and others like her aren’t responsible for any of the actions these evil people take – but they do create the toxic environment.
Remember the apocalyptic responses to Trump’s rallies? The NYT called them a threat to democracy itself. Yet Warren, and others like her, are using far more violent discourse. This political rhetoric is what the Alexandria shooter thrived on.
What to watch: Are there more assassination attempts in the future? Democratic rhetoric isn’t dying down, and as I wrote last week, the left-wing media is providing moral justifications for these shootings. Commentary Magazine Editor John Podhoretz has a good question, have we re-entered a time of assassinations? The climate of political rhetoric sadly supports it – and no one is putting on the brakes.
I hope I’m wrong on this one. But we’re only six months into the new administration and we’re already dealing with assassination attempts. That fact does not bode well.
Must read links this week
The Unwritten Law That Helps Bad Cops Go Free – David French, National Review Online
The NRA Shuns a Second Amendment Martyr: Philando Castile died because he exercised his right to bear arms – Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine
Five Takeaways from the George Special Election – Sean Trende, Real Clear Politics
A Democratic Blind Spot on Culture – Rich Lowry, Politico Magazine
Liberals Need to Be More Conservative About Immigration: The U.S. owes allegiance to its citizens, warts and all – Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View
Scalise attack was ‘to some degree self-inflicted’ claims CBS’s Scott Pelley – Tom Blumer, Fox News Opinion
About that New Study about Guns and ‘Children’ – Robert Verbruggen, National Review Online
No, Soros isn’t bankrolling these GOP candidates. Knock it off. – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
The best in-depth analysis piece this week
How an Entire Nation Became Russia’s Test Lab for Cyber-warfare: Russia’s Cyberwar on Ukraine is a Blueprint for what’s to come – Andy Greenberg, Wired Magazine
Note: This piece explores how the Russians have used the Ukraine for years to test out new techniques to paralyze a country via cyberwar. Russia has employed some of these tools in the United States and has plans to use more in the future. Welcome to the future of global warfare.
The Cyber-Cassandras said this would happen. For decades they warned that hackers would soon make the leap beyond purely digital mayhem and start to cause real, physical damage to the world. In 2009, when the NSA’s Stuxnet malware silently accelerated a few hundred Iranian nuclear centrifuges until they destroyed themselves, it seemed to offer a preview of this new era. “This has a whiff of August 1945,” Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA, said in a speech. “Somebody just used a new weapon, and this weapon will not be put back in the box.”
Now, in Ukraine, the quintessential cyberwar scenario has come to life. Twice. On separate occasions, invisible saboteurs have turned off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of people. Each blackout lasted a matter of hours, only as long as it took for scrambling engineers to manually switch the power on again. But as proofs of concept, the attacks set a new precedent: In Russia’s shadow, the decades-old nightmare of hackers stopping the gears of modern society has become a reality.
And the blackouts weren’t just isolated attacks. They were part of a digital blitzkrieg that has pummeled Ukraine for the past three years—a sustained cyberassault unlike any the world has ever seen. A hacker army has systematically undermined practically every sector of Ukraine: media, finance, transportation, military, politics, energy. Wave after wave of intrusions have deleted data, destroyed computers, and in some cases paralyzed organizations’ most basic functions. “You can’t really find a space in Ukraine where there hasn’t been an attack,” says Kenneth Geers, a NATO ambassador who focuses on cybersecurity.
Satire piece of the week
Nation’s Hospitals Prepare For Influx Of Shell-Shocked VBS Volunteers – The Babylon Bee
U.S.—The waves of patients typically begin arriving in late June, and peak in July and August—thousands of panicked and traumatized Vacation Bible School volunteers who haven’t slept in a full week begin flooding into America’s hospitals. Overworked and outnumbered doctors, nurses, and hospital staff from California to Maine are reportedly clearing rooms and adding beds to receive the sizable influx of shell-shocked VBS workers.
Thanks for reading!